By Bob Friday, co-founder and CTO, Mist
Originally published on RCR Wireless News on 3/11/20
As sports fans know all too well, arenas and stadiums are struggling to keep up with their appetite for social networking and mobile connectivity. It can be an issue for any high-density place – concert venues, meeting halls, malls, apartment buildings, even some office buildings.
But that’s about to change thanks to a new wireless industry standard — Wi-Fi 6E — that is bringing the technology to crack the high-density stadium nut of ensuring reliable internet access when a plethora of devices are competing for wireless bandwidth on the same radio frequency channel.
The improvement comes not a moment too soon for teams and venue operators facing increasing pressure from their fans looking for internet connectivity to share their experience with friends and family and download data on their favorite player, look at out-of-town scores, message with friends, or check email just as easily as at home. And since cellular networks struggle even harder in congested environments, Wi-Fi is the best route.
In addition to improving the fan experience, robust wireless enables teams and venues to engage visitors with relevant content while they’re in their seats, such as promotions for an upcoming game, exclusive offers on team merchandise, or the ability to order food and beverages. Strong wireless in arenas and stadiums is a win-win for everybody.
That’s why something called BSS Coloring is cause for cheer. BSS Coloring – BSS stands for Basic Service Set — is one of the key technologies in Wi-Fi 6, aka 802.11ax, a new wireless connectivity standard released last fall that promises nearly four times the capacity of its predecessor and better user experiences. Wi-Fi 6E is a recently announced extension that promises to further reduce Wi-Fi congestion.
BSS Coloring addresses how wireless access points (AP) – the small pieces of hardware that are mounted on walls or ceilings to connect wireless devices to the network – perform when there are multiple APs on the same channel.
In the previous Wi-Fi standard (Wi-Fi 5 or 802.11ac), when two more APs choose to use the same channel, an algorithm called Clear-Channel Assessment was activated to ensure that nearby devices didn’t transmit all at once and cause interference. The algorithm basically acted as a harness that degraded the performance for all device users in a given area in order to protect the channel.
In a crowded environment like an arena or a stadium, where the competition for simultaneous access is as intense as anything happening on the court or field, it’s no wonder that performance has been so frustratingly inconsistent.
BSS Coloring is a “spatial reuse’ technology that adds an identifier, or “color,” to decide how two more APs transmitting on the same channel can overlap and keep data flowing without causing interference.
This, in effect, divides multiple users in one place, such as an arena, into separate groups that don’t bump into each other — akin to how restaurant patrons seated at different tables can carry on separate conversations even though they share the same “voice channel.”
Wireless infrastructure has seen major innovation in recent years, such as the ability to connect to the cloud and incorporate artificial intelligence to gain insights into how the network is performing and serving users. However, high-density environments have been an Achilles heel in this innovation.
And with two of the largest smartphone vendors, Apple and Samsung now shipping products with Wi-Fi 6 capabilities, and makers of behind-the-scenes networking infrastructure are rolling out new gear that supports the standard the latest in fan experience is available now.
And with the FCC looking to open up over 1 GHz of unlicensed spectrum at 6 GHz that Wi-Fi 6 is optimized to use with wider and faster 160MHz channels, the future of the mobile internet experience in arenas and stadiums is looking bright.
Bob Friday is co-founder and chief technology officer at Mist, which is now part of Juniper Networks and develops self-learning wireless networks using artificial intelligence.